Rwanda's journey to sports glory

Sports prowess is on the minds of many at the moment. Every four years, with the Olympics in full swing, there are dreams realised and hopes kept alive. Watching the games we often do not realise the full impact of an Olympian’s journey.

Sports prowess is on the minds of many at the moment. Every four years, with the Olympics in full swing, there are dreams realised and hopes kept alive. Watching the games we often do not realise the full impact of an Olympian’s journey.

It is so much more than what we see before our eyes. What is most obvious is the gut, the glory and the disappointments. On the other hand and less apparent is the multiplier effect that comes as a result of the achievements of many of these athletes.

 

Rwanda is a country on the rise. The IMF’s Rwanda Country Report published in January 2016 included the information in the table below. It is obvious from an analysis of these figures that the country has been doing well.

 

For 2015 the growth was stronger than expected.

 

With a youthful population, Rwanda is hard pressed to ensure that youth development forms a major part of its drive towards continued development. More often than not, youth goes hand in hand with sports and this is where Rwanda has the potential to harness its natural state of being to create a sporting powerhouse in the realm of nations such as Jamaica and Kenya.

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Why sports other than the fact that it often is connected with youth involvement? Simply because it is doable; Rwanda has nearly 70 per cent of its population under the age of 25 and sporting prowess has been proven to provide wealth to individuals and communities.

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt is estimated to be worth over $30 million. While Bolt’s achievements have him in the category of an outlier, many of his fellow Jamaican athletes are also quite individually wealthy. Asafa Powell, the first man to run sub-10 in the men’s 100m event, and Shelly-Ann Frazer-Pryce are believed to be worth $6.5 million and $4 million, respectively. Kenyan athletes have also done quite well for themselves.

In a country where the Gross National Income was $3060 in 2015 (Source: World Bank report, 2015), Kenyan athletes are among the country’s wealthiest people. Marathon runner Wilson Kipsang won last year’s World Marathon Majors Series earning $500 000, in addition to earnings from other races he won within the same year.

It could be argued that the earnings of these individuals are just that: individual success. But, more often than not these earnings filter through a society and bring development across a wide range of areas.

The Business Daily Africa website, in an article on August 21, 2016, reported that in Uasin Gishu alone, runners account for a whopping 35 per cent of the real estate business.

The article went on to speak to the fact that communities such as Eldoret, home to many Kenyan elite athletes, are booming as athletes return home with their ‘winnings’ and invest. Not only do they own hotels, private homes, restaurants and farms but many of these athletes proactively assist with school and community projects.

When the information is assessed it can be argued that Rwanda has the makings of greatness. The Rwandan athletes who participated in the recent Olympics should be congratulated and encouraged to continue training.

Twenty-eight sports were on the programme for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Of the 28, Rwanda could most likely do well in track & field, table tennis, football, boxing and tennis. The country is already making strides in cycling.

Other events such as fencing and equestrian would be definite nonstarters. Of the five favourable events, track and field is most likely given the country’s altitude and hilly terrain and the natural build of the typical Rwandan male and female. Within the category of track & field, the country’s chances may be best with:

- Long jump
- Triple jump
- 20km walk
- 50km walk
- 5000 m race
- 10000 m race

While effective sports programmes take time to build they provide opportunities to a nation and its people. Brand recognition and bragging rights go along with the financial gains which come from being a sporting nation. Rwanda has the basic components to be a nation the world watches out for in global sporting events. Will we see a focus in this direction any time soon?

Natalie Campbell-Rodriques is a Jamaican political analyst and campaign strategist

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